Garfield County ready to assume lead in fairgrounds study
Citizen Telegram Editor
Garfield County will soon start to take the lead role in developing a vision and strategic plan for the county fairgrounds in Rifle.
At its Thursday, April 18, meeting, a Rifle-based fairgrounds committee learned the county commissioners will hold a workshop on the fairgrounds at 6 p.m. Thursday, May 16, in the county administration building in Glenwood Springs.
“The budget process last fall set the county on a master plan course,” said County Manager Drew Gorgey. “So it’s very important to have input on the fairgrounds from Rifle and everywhere else in the county.”
The commissioners never voted to form the Rifle committee before the group started meeting earlier this year, Gorgey noted.
Commissioner John Martin said the county wants to hear from all fairgrounds users.
“We want to know what they think the fairgrounds is and how it should look,” he added. “Not where it will be. We want to maximize the use of the current site for the present day and be a good neighbor, while using the county’s money wisely.”
Gorgey said community forums throughout the county would be a good way to gather input fro m a broad range of interests.
Martin suggested a facilitator might be hire to help guide the process.
“But I’d like to see this done without it being seen as a government initiative,” he added. “The ownership should belong to the people.”
Discussing the future of the fairgrounds is a “very sensitive subject, because we know every time you talk about it, it’s ‘are you going to move it?’,” Gorgey added.
Martin and Gorgey said the land where the fairgrounds now sits was donated to the county with the condition it be used for “permanent public uses.” In the past, the common understanding was the land could revert to the donors, if it were used for something that did not fall under that category.
Local realtor Jack Pretti said he understood the use had to be for “agricultural and mechanical presentations.”
Martin said the county does not intend to overlook what the donors intended for the site.
“We want it to function well and be something the county and city of Rifle can be proud of,” he added. “It’s one of the biggest agricultural facilities in the region, but we also think we can have events that are not ag-related. Church services, family reunions, weddings, four-wheel vehicle races.”
Close to $1 million in improvements are planned at the fairgrounds, before this year’s 75th annual county fair. County engineer Randy Withee said the planned improvements would replace the track on three sides, leaving only the stretch in front of the grandstands as dirt. Much of the area will be paved for parking, with a landscaped berm along Railroad Avenue.
Event participants will enter the fairgrounds off 12th Street and Howard Avenue, he added.
Three flag poles behind the grandstands will be relocated to the west, an animal “warm up” area southeast of the grandstands will be enlarged, animal gates and chutes will be added and sidewalks will also be constructed in certain areas. A changing area will be provided, and recreational vehicle hook ups are planned.
The commissioners are expected to award a contract for the improvements at their first meeting in May. Gorgey said the county planned to hire a full-time fair coordinator this year, too.
Martin said the county recently signed up a horse show for October that will be a good test of how the improvements could lead to more such attractions.
A second phase of improvements, sometime in the near future, would likely include new rodeo pens and barns, a second warm-up area, the removal of the existing barns and doubling the current parking area, Martin added.
Rifle Regional Economic Development Corp. President Michael Langhorne said he applauded the planned improvements and the goal of developing a strategic plan for the facility.
“You should work toward the future, but also make what we have now work better,” he stated.
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The Garfield County coroner has identified the pedestrian who was killed in a one-vehicle crash on Highway 6 in Rifle Wednesday morning.